Thursday, May 31, 2012

As Washington Post columnist notes, the recall is a legitimate effort to protect the 99%

Yes, the eyes of the nation are watching Wisconsin. 

It’s not just because of the unprecedented money that Scott Walker is raising from billionaires the country. And it’s not just because the union movement fears for the future of the working class.

Independent, well-respected journalists understand that the recall election on June 5 will be a bellwether in how much the 1% in this country will be able to solidify not just their economic but also their political power.

It’s become popular to question the very concept of a recall. But a May 30 opinion by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. makes clear that the recall is an entirely legitimate last resort by voters who fear for the state’s democratic institutions and progressive tradition.

As Dionne writes in his column, “Walker is being challenged not because he pursued conservative policies but because Wisconsin has become the most glaring example of a new and genuinely alarming approach to politics on the right. It seeks to use incumbency to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field decisively toward the interests of those in power.”

Dionne’s column follows by a view days a lengthy article in the New York Times magazine asking, “How Did Wisconsin Become the Most Politically Divisive Place in America?

The Times article is an overview that covers everything from Act 10 to the mining controversy. It also makes clear that not all conservatives share Walker’s “take-no-prisoners” approach to governing. As the articles notes:

“Some Republicans [in Wisconsin] also lamented the end of the long bipartisan consensus on labor rights. Dick Spanbauer, a former Marine and self-described ‘pro-life, pro-family Christian,’ was one of four Republican Assemblymen to vote against Act 10. ‘The leadership told me, “Dick, we don’t need unions anymore,”’ he told me. ‘Really? What’s changed? Is a company going to say you don’t need to work 12 hours?’ Spanbauer, like his father, had worked much of his adult life in factories in Oshkosh. ‘They don’t understand anything about the working class,’ he said about his Republican colleagues. ‘They thought you could just go crush somebody’s voice and get away with it.’”

Few in Wisconsin welcome the recall battle. Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, many will breathe a weary sigh of relief that this marathon is finally over. But, as the Washington Post’s Dionne writes in ending his column, the recall’s root cause “was not the orneriness of Walker’s opponents but a polarizing brand of conservative politics that most Americans, including many conservatives, have good reason to reject."

— — —
This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Of Walker and Nixon, Race-baiting and Rumors: A Candidate's Character Matters

The question of character has become a central issue in the Walker recall election on June 5.
It’s not that we expect our political leaders to be saints. John F. Kennedy is well known for his extra-marital exploits, but that has not tarred his legacy.
But neither should we put up with liars and crooks — the reason that, fundamentally, Richard Nixon resigned in the face of impeachment.
Some of Scott Walker’s troubling traits, such as his “divide and conquer”/“drop the bomb” approach to governing, have been well publicized. (Make sure to check out today's New York Times magazine article, which asks: “How Did Wisconsin Become the Most Politically Divisive Place in America?”)
Likewise, it’s well known that Walker is the only U.S. governor with a criminal defense fund, stemming from the ongoing John Doe probe into illegal activities by staffers and appointees when Walker was Milwaukee County Executive.
Two recent developments raise yet more questions about Walker’s character.
The first (in what is another “divide and conquer” maneuver) involves a central theme in Walker’s recall campaign – a theme he articulated most clearly at an Oconomowoc event when he said he will make sure Wisconsin does not “become another Milwaukee.”


It’s a time-honored Republican tactic to win white votes by using subtle but effective messages based on race — without ever mentioning race. Nixon talked of “state’s rights,” Ronald Reagan attacked “welfare queens,” and Newt Gingrich labeled Obama a “food-stamp president.”
Now we have Walker promising statewide voters he will protect them from big bad Milwaukee.
Yes, Milwaukee has lots of tall buildings and the state’s largest freeway interchanges. But around the state, Milwaukee is best known as a city with lots and lots of African Americans, Latinos and Hmong people, many of them poor.
The beauty of using racial code is that there’s always plausible deniability. You can use racial stereotypes to get your message across and then perfect a holier-than-thou attitude and claim your statements were color-blind.
Walker’s anti-Milwaukee strategy was unveiled during his victory speech the night of the Republican primary, when he told his supporters, “We don’t want to be like Milwaukee, we want to be like Wisconsin.” At an Oconomowoc event a few days later, he promised that Wisconsin will not “become another Milwaukee.” (The irony, of course, is that problems of poverty and joblessness in Milwaukee stem in part from the suburban white noose that surrounds the city, a white noose that Walker helped tighten during his tenure as County Executive.)
Eight of Milwaukee’s Common Council members  issued a joint statement that sharply criticized Walker’s tactic, and Common Council President Willie Hines has a letter to the editor in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As Hines notes, Walker’s divisive rhetoric “has alienated the majority of every minority group that calls Milwaukee home: African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, the LGBT community and others.” Walker, Hines adds, is “choosing to divide Wisconsin rather than unite us.” 


The second development raising questions about Walker’s character involves an essay last week by a former Walker classmate at Marquette University. The essay covers both unethical tactics that Walker used when running for student office and, more seriously, questions about why he dropped out of Marquette even though he had senior status and just a year to go.
It’s been reported that Walker did not graduate from Marquette University, that he ran contentious campaigns for student office and was accused of violating the university’s campaign guidelines.
But the reasons have never been clear why Walker left Marquette. On its face, the move is a bit odd. Why would Walker, who had clear political ambitions from the moment he entered Marquette, not take that final year to get a degree? It’s not that Walker had some top-notch political job he couldn’t resist; he took a low profile job at the local chapter of the American Red Cross.
An October 2010 issue of the Marquette Tribune has a good round-up of the controversies surrounding Walker’s campaign when he ran for president of the student government. The article notes, for example, that Walker was accused of violating campaign guidelines “on multiple occasions.” It also cites the original Tribune editorial from the time of the campaign that called Walker “unfit” for office because of his mudslinging attacks on his opponent.
More recently, on May 22, a classmate of Walker’s wrote a lengthy essay about Walker’s time at Marquette. The essay is by Dr. Glen Barry, who after graduating from Marquette earned a Masters and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He now lives in rural Wisconsin. An environmental activist, in 2010 Barry was recognized as one of “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by the Utne Reader.
Barry summarizes Walker’s campaign controversies at Marquette, but also notes an unresolved question that has long surrounded Walker: why did he leave Marquette? “It is a closely guarded secret,” Barry writes. “I believe the general line of thinking — that Scott Walker was caught cheating.”
This is not the first time that Walker has been dogged by rumors of cheating at Marquette — a volatile accusation.
Are the rumors true? Or are they slander? Do they involve cheating in regards to his political campaigns, or academic cheating?
If the rumors are true, voters have a right to know. If they are slander, Walker has a right to be vindicated and cleared of such accusations.
Marquette University, understandably, can’t put the matter to rest. Student transcripts are private. Walker, however, could help end the controversy. He could ask Marquette for official copies of his transcript and release them himself.


For those who believe that a candidate’s character matters, there’s another recent article that is fascinating.
John Dean, a former White House counsel, has written a two-part series for the website The first part is titled, “A Fair Question: Is Governor Scott Walker A Conservative Without a Conscience?” The second part is titled, “Good Luck, Wisconsin, You’ve Got a Classic Authoritarian Governor.”
Dean is not opposed to strong, authoritarian leaders, noting that they “are often outstanding at running businesses, and when serving as high-ranking officers in the military, not to mention law enforcement.”
But, Dean notes, the same is not true of political leaders, except perhaps in a dictatorship. “Democracy and democratic institutions do not function well with dogmatic, unbending authoritarian leaders,” Dean writes.
Perhaps the most damning statement from Dean: “If I lived in Wisconsin, I would be uncomfortable with this man, whom I find more Nixonian than even Richard Nixon himself.”
Dean has some background in this matter. He was White House Counsel under Nixon from July 1970 to April 1973, deeply involved in the Watergate burglary and the subsequent cover-up.

Note: the original post said Nixon was impeached. He resigned in the face of certain impeachment.
— — —

This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cardinal Dolan drops his smile, goes on the warpath

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is on the warpath. And he’s using the poor as pawns in his war against the Obama administration.

Obama’s unforgiveable sin? The upcoming mandate that Catholic institutions such as hospitals and universities provide contraception coverage as part of employees’ health insurance.

Dolan, who perfected a gregarious, smile-broadly-but-carry-a-big-stick style while archbishop here in Milwaukee, is raising that stick and dropping the smile.

Take five minutes and watch this MSNBC clip that aired yesterday. Dolan, who now heads the archdiocese of New York, threatens that the church will walk away from serving the poor if the administration defends a woman’s right to contraception. The poor, it appears, are expendable.

Dolan claims that all he wants is for the federal government to leave the church alone.

Really? Does that include the $2.9 billion the federal government provided to Catholic Charities in 2010? (By the way, that $2.9 billion is more than under the Bush administration.)

Watch the video. It’s worth every minute.

— — —
This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A battle for the soul of the Catholic Church

If you think Wisconsin is a fierce battleground in this election year, keep your eye on the Catholic Church.

President John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, worked overtime to keep his religion out of his politics and to reassure voters that he was not a Trojan Horse for the Vatican.

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and Republican wunderkind Rep. Paul Ryan — backed by increasingly militant, well-funded and uber-conservative Catholics — are doing their best to put their religion in the forefront of their politics.

But a sizeable number of Catholics are uncomfortable with the attempt to equate Catholicism with the Republican agenda. A pushback has begun.

The Church itself is caught between its obsession with all matters sexual and its rhetorical but too-often dormant commitment to social justice.

Catholic conservatives clearly have the upper hand, and the Church’s wrath is primarily focused on its triad of no-nos: gay marriage, birth control, and Obamacare.

The Vatican made a mistake, however, when it decided to take on the U.S. nuns because they cared too much about social justice. That woke up a lot of Catholics who realized that the church they loved was being decidedly un-Christian toward those who dared to disagree with Rome.

Two articles in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlight the coming battles.

The first is an opinion piece signed by 54 faculty and academic staff at Marquette University challenging Ryan’s statements that his budget proposals are in line with his Catholic faith.

The second is an AP/Journal Sentinel story that leading Catholic institutions— from the University of Notre Dame to the Archdioceses of Washington and New York — have filed suit against the Obama administration’s requirement that Catholic institutions provide contraception coverage as part of their health insurance.

The Marquette letter is a follow-up to a similar letter signed by faculty at Georgetown University last month when Ryan spoke at Georgetown.

The Georgetown letter welcomed Ryan, but then noted: “However, we would be remiss in our duty to your and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.”

Ryan’s attempt to involve the Church in his budget-cutting forced even the bishops to take action, who noted that the GOP measures failed to meet “moral criteria” of protecting the poor. If Ryan had not linked his Catholicism to the budget, it is unclear whether the bishops would have spoken up.

As the liberal Catholic group Sojourners noted, “The hierarchy’s pushback comes after liberal Catholics in Congress and progressive activists challenged the bishops to resist the GOP budget proposals with the same vigor that they have challenged the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and its perceived violations of religious freedom.”

Georgetown again made headlines when it invited U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, to speak at an awards ceremony May 18 as part of commencement day.

Needless to say, Georgetown was well aware that Sebelius was on the conservatives’ list of most-despised Catholics. In essence, the Jesuit institution was throwing down the gauntlet.

Sebelius has earned the wrath of conservatives because, in addition to her role in Obamacare, she supports abortion rights. While governor of Kansas, her bishop said she should not be given communion because of her stance supporting women’s reproductive freedom.

A few days after the Sebelius controversy at Georgetown, a wide range of Catholic institutions filed suit in federal court against the pending requirement that employees at Catholic-run workplaces be provided contraception coverage as part of their health insurance.

The church has long opposed contraception, including condoms, in line with its view that the purpose of sex is to procreate.

Ignoring issues of a woman’s right to comprehensive healthcare and the freedom to practice medicine in line with 21st Century best practices, the church has framed the issue as one of religious freedom.

Catholics United, which is dedicated to promoting a Catholic message of justice, denounced the lawsuit and accused the bishops of serving a “right-wing political agenda.”

In a statement on its website, Catholics United wrote, “Given past silence on the part of the bishops and Catholic institutions over very similar, often more comprehensive, contraceptive health care mandates in 28 states, it remains a curious coincidence the bishops would choose to stand opposed to a Democratic administration in an election year.”

“A curious coincidence” indeed.

Stay tuned. The coming battles will shape not just U.S. politics, but the Catholic Church as it struggles to maintain its power and relevancy in the 21st Century.
— — —
This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Go Bucky! Defend the Wisconsin Idea!

I grew up in a home where the University of Wisconsin-Madison held god-like status. My mother and father met in Madison, and I learned to sing “On Wisconsin” long before I could even hum “The Star Spangled Banner.” I and most of my siblings graduated from Madison, and my father-in-law is a UW-Madison soils scientist who spent much of his career traveling the back roads of Wisconsin to talk with farmers.

My husband and I even allowed our children to name the family dog “Bucky Rose,” in honor of the beagle’s liberation from the pound on the day after the Badgers won the Rose Bowl in 1994.

So although the term “The Wisconsin Idea” doesn’t quickly roll off my tongue, I understand the concept in my bones.

As with the Progressive tradition in general, the future of “The Wisconsin Idea” is in the hands of voters as they approach the June 5 recall of Gov. Scott Walker.

The Wisconsin Idea, a term coined a century ago, refers to the belief that University of Wisconsin’s expertise should benefit all the people of the state, that government policy should be grounded in sound research, and that a strong system of public education is essential to prosperity.

An outgrowth of the state’s Progressive Movement, The Wisconsin Idea has long been a source of pride and a foundation for excellence. The University of Wisconsin system has a world-class reputation. Wisconsin ACT test scores for high schoolers are among the best in the nation. The UW-Extension, meanwhile, supports lifelong learning and small business initiatives across the state.

Last year, however, Gov. Walker oversaw a state budget that made the deepest cuts to public education in the history of the state. No system or age group was spared. Cuts included the University of Wisconsin system, the state’s technical colleges, and K-12 public school districts large and small.

Should Walker win the recall vote, there is every reason to believe he will continue his budget-cuts against public education. The reasons are financial, political — and ideological.

The Wisconsin State Historical Society defines The Wisconsin Idea this way:

Progressive-era policy to apply the expertise of the state's university to social legislation that benefited all the state's citizens; it led to classic programs such as regulation of utilities, workers' compensation, tax reform, and university extension services; sometimes expressed in the maxim that "the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state."

Teddy Roosevelt, in an introduction to a 1912 book that explained The Wisconsin Idea, noted Wisconsin “has become literally a laboratory for wise experimental legislation aiming to secure the social and political betterment of the people as a whole.”

An extensive treatise on The Wisconsin Idea in the 1995-96 State of Wisconsin Blue Book went so far as to note, “Wisconsin can be justifiably proud that, despite its average resources and population size, it produced a number of impressive persons, some of them politicians or government workers, most of them professors, who worked together for the common good. That phenomenon is similar to the fortuitous circumstances that spawned the classical culture of Ancient Athens and the concentration of genius in little Florence that created its Renaissance culture.”

It’s hard to imagine why one would condemn The Wisconsin Idea. But the concept is inextricably linked with the Progressive Movement’s policies and its dedication to using government to promote democracy and the common good. What’s more, influential conservatives have never been fond of The Wisconsin Idea’s unequivocal support for public education.

Eighteen years ago, former Bradley Foundation head Michael Joyce wrote a 6-page tirade against the Wisconsin Idea and the Progressive Movement. In particular, he criticized the close relationship between the state university and state government, and condemned the “increasing prominence to the place and function of the public university.”

Joyce’s article, “The Legacy of the ‘Wisconsin Idea’: Hastening the Demise of an Exhausted Progressivism,” was published in the Winter 1994 issue of Wisconsin Interest, published by the conservative think tank The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. (See my May 14 blog for more information and an overview of the conservative attack on Wisconsin’s Progressive tradition.)

Joyce was not just another bit-player in Wisconsin politics. As head of the Bradley Foundation, he wielded significant power, overseeing the purse strings of one of the most influential conservative foundations in the country.

Joyce was known for equating public schools with socialism, and his 1994 article condemned public schools curriculum for “reflecting everything from environmental extremism to virulent feminism.” Under Joyce, the voucher movement that funnels public dollars to private schools became a key focus of the Bradley Foundation — to the tune of around $20 million, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

Joyce left the Foundation in 2001, and Michael Grebe now heads the foundation. (Former CEO of the Foley & Lardner law firm, Grebe chaired Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and is currently chair of “Friends of Scott Walker.”) Grebe is less flamboyant in his rhetoric, and doesn’t go around talking about “virulent feminism.” But support for privatizing public education remains a guiding principle at Bradley.

Under Grebe, the Bradley foundation is continuing its support of the voucher movement, but has branched out into funding semi-private and corporatized charter schools. In the last 10 years, for instance, Bradley has given $16.5 million to the innocuous-sounding Charter School Growth Fund, not including a $5 million line of credit. Based in Colorado, the fund is a venture capital initiative to support charter schools run by corporate Charter Management Organizations. Grebe is on the board of the Charter School Growth Fund.

The fund’s portfolio includes Rocketship Education, a California-based franchise which has received a charter from the City of Milwaukee to open a school next fall and ultimately expand to eight schools. As with vouchers and welfare reform, Wisconsin is being used to test-market and perfect the Bradley Foundation’s conservative projects.

Across the state, the devastation of Walker’s education policies is clear. At the university and technical college level, students increasingly are being asked to pick up the tab and tuition is escalating. At the K-12 level, public money is increasingly be funneled to private schools and to private interests running corporate-style charter schools. 

If you care about your public elementary and high school. If you’re thinking of attending a state technical college. If you respect the University of Wisconsin system. Heck, if you’re a fan of Bucky Badger and the Big Ten — make sure to vote on June 5 and defend The Wisconsin Idea.
— — —
This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Voting on June 5: Know Your Rights

First of all, you do not need a photo ID to vote in the recall election.

Second, you can register to vote at the polls on Election Day June 5. 

Yes, there’s lots of confusion. But if you want easy-to-read, downloadable PDFs on your rights, look no further. Here’s a link to a to hand-out for voters of all ages.

Here's a link for college students, even if you may be leaving Wisconsin for the summer. 

A variety of groups have formed the non-partisan “Election Protection” initiative. If you have questions on the day of the Recall, June 5, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. .
— — —

This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Of Nuns, Girl Scouts, and God's Rottweiler

In case you missed it ...

As if targeting the nuns wasn’t enough, the Catholic Church is now going after the Girl Scouts.
What’s next? Denying communion to women who use birth control?
The Girl Scouts’ alleged sin is that it has worked with Planned Parenthood to provide fact-based information on sexuality, puberty and reproduction.
The church, locked into a mind-set that sees little moral difference between contraception and murder, caved to pressure from right-wing fringe groups and decided to investigate the Girl Scouts.
The church’s investigation has been going on for two years. One would think that would be enough time to find out if the scouts truly are leading young women to hell. Apparently not.
According to a Washington Post article last week that brought national attention to the inquisition, “In a March 28 letter to his fellow bishops, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, wrote that ‘important questions still remain and need to be examined.’” 
Among the concerns noted in the Post article: “Last year, a Colorado troop prompted complaints when it accepted a 7-year-old transgender child who was born a boy but was being raised as a girl. Others are upset that the Girl Scouts have materials that provide links to groups like the Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam, some of which support family planning and contraception.”
In the Milwaukee area, one of the complaints centered on a Girl Scout patch honoring Dolores Huerta — an iconic civil rights leader who, along with Cesar Chavez, co-founded the predecessor to the United Farm Workers. Huerta’s moral downfall? In 2007 she received an award from Planned Parenthood for “her life’s work advancing women’s rights.” 
The right-wing attack against the Girl Scouts — with the U.S. Bishops now providing both support and cover —is led by an obscure but tenacious group known as C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute). The group was founded in 1997 to monitor the United Nations, in particular programs that promote family planning or defend the rights of those who do not conform to a heterosexual lifestyle. C-FAM, to put it mildly, is a bit kooky.
Jay Bookman, a columnist and blogger at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, describes C-FAM this way:
The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute is a deeply right-wing organization that sees itself as a watchdog against U.N. incursions on our national sovereignty and against U.N. attempts to subvert American and Catholic morality. According to its website, C-Fam’s “vision” is “the preservation of international law by discrediting socially radical policies at the United Nations and other international institutions.”
Back in 1633, the Church condemned Galileo for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He was told he must recant or be burned at the stake. It wasn’t until 1992 that the church admitted it had erred and that Galileo was right.
The Church’s condemnation of Galileo was part of the Church’s Inquisition into heresy — a catch-all term to describe any view by a Catholic that does not conform to official church dogma.
Today, Planned Parenthood is the new Galileo, contraception is a modern-day heresy, and the Church is standing firm in its inquisition.
The current Pope, Benedict XVI, is sometimes referred to as “God’s Rottweiler” for his work as an enforcer of conservative doctrine while Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith —an organization within the Vatican which was once known as The Inquisition.
                                                 — — —
This blog is cross-posted at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Purple Wisconsin.
Image collage by Barbara J. Miner. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wisconsin's Progressive Tradition 

at Stake in the Recall Election

The Walker Recall Election is about more than jobs. Or public education. Or union rights. Or women’s rights. Or protecting our environment. Or making sure corporations pay their fair share of taxes. Or safeguarding the right of poor people to BadgerCare.

It’s about all of that — and much more.

Fundamentally, the conservative agenda seeks to turn back history and demolish the century-old tradition that gained Wisconsin a national reputation as the home of honest, competent government serving the needs of its citizens.

The ultimate goal is eviscerating Wisconsin’s Progressive Movement and its many legacies. Nor have conservatives been shy about proclaiming this goal.

Eighteen years ago, the 800-pound gorilla of Wisconsin policy debates — Michael Joyce of the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation — wrote an article outlining his plan to overthrow the Progressive Movement and the related concept of the Wisconsin Idea.

Borrowing from Marxist imagery, Joyce wrote that progressivism “is destined for the dustbin of history.” The common project, he told fellow conservatives, “must be to hasten the demise of progressivism.”

The dream of destroying Wisconsin’s progressive tradition continues to this day. This March, at a symposium in Milwaukee hosted by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, conservative commentator Michelle Makin asked rhetorically, “How did Wisconsin become such a ground zero for the conservative movement?

“Well, I think it was push back to the excesses of progressivism,” she answered. “That’s wrapped up in your state history and somebody has to pay for that.”

Conservatives have promoted their policies using rhetoric that extols individual liberty and belittles the “nanny” state. Leaving aside conservatives’ clever rhetoric, what are the actual accomplishments of Wisconsin’s Progressive Movement that are so upsetting.

In 1911, during the height of the Progressive Movement, Wisconsin was the first state to introduce workers compensation. In 1932, it passed unemployment insurance; in 1959, it was one of the first states to give public workers the right to collectively bargain. Professors from the University of Wisconsin helped set up Social Security, and Wisconsin reformers “were equally active in promoting workplace safety, and often led the nation in natural resource conservation and environmental protection,” historian William Cronon wrote in his now-famous opinion in the New York Times in March of 2011.

The Wisconsin Historical Society—in an objective tone I find reassuring yet also disturbing in essentializing what’s at stake—has this to say in a web-based essay on Progressivism and the Wisconsin Idea.

[T]he rise of big business after 1870 had concentrated economic power in the hands of a few privileged individuals. These two groups, party leaders and business leaders, often overlapped, personally and pragmatically, as the interests and actions of government and business converged.

Progressive Republicans, in contrast, believed that the business of government was to serve the people. They sought to restrict the power of corporations when it interfered with the needs of individual citizens. The Progressive Movement appealed to citizens who wanted honest government and moderate economic reforms that would expand democracy and improve public morality. …

The most important and influential progressive legislation, however, was passed during the next (1911) session, under the governorship of Francis McGovern. The 1911 legislature created the nation's first effective workers' compensation program to protect people injured on the job. It passed laws to regulate factory safety, encouraged the formation of cooperatives, established a state income tax, formed a state life insurance fund, limited working hours for women and children, and passed forest and waterpower conservation acts. …By the 1930s, when depression and unemployment dominated American public life, the assumptions of the Wisconsin Progressives had penetrated deeply into national politics. Much of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation was drafted by Wisconsin citizens.

The Bradley Foundation’s Joyce launched his attack on progressivism in the Winter 1994 issue ofWisconsin Interest, the publication of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. (Right-wing talk show host Charlie Sykes is the magazine’s editor.) The Bradley Foundation gave the institute a $2.8 million start-up grant in 1987, and by 2010 it had given the institute a total of $16.5 million. As the Bradley Foundation knows, in the marketplace of ideas, it helps to have money to promote one’s product.

For more than two decades, the Bradley Foundation has used Wisconsin as a guinea pig to promote its conservative policies — whether school vouchers, getting rid of welfare, or attacking unions. While the Bradley Foundation doesn’t enjoy the same national name recognition as right-wing funders such as the Koch brothers, it is more powerful. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has noted, “from 2001 to 2009, it [Bradley] doled out nearly as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined.”

Joyce, known for enjoying both the public limelight and rough-and-tumble politics, died of liver disease in 2006. Michael Grebe, the current President and CEO of the Bradley Foundation, has a lower public profile but is no less powerful. He is also arguably better connected and more respected than Joyce was, especially during Joyce’s latter years.
Former CEO of the Foley & Lardner law firm, Grebe chaired Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and is currently chair of “Friends of Scott Walker.”

Walker, within days of his election in November 2010, met at Milwaukee’s elite Bacchus restaurant with the board and senior staff of the Bradley Foundation. Two weeks later, the right-wing John K. MacIver Institute in Madison wrote an opinion calling for Walker and the incoming legislature to end collective bargaining for public employees and to make Wisconsin a so-called “right-to-work” state limiting private unions' ability to collect member dues, and thus undermining the unions' financial base.

Walker implemented that first recommendation last spring with his infamous Act 10. Recently released video footage shows Walker promising a Beloit billionaire that the move against public sector collective bargaining was his "first step" and was part of a policy towards unions of "divide and conquor." The video was filmed shortly after Walker took office.

MacIver, a relatively new and increasingly influential think tank, received $360,000 from the Bradley Foundation from 2008- 2010. Overall, the list of grants awarded by the Bradley Foundation reads like a who’s who of the right wing—from the Americans for Prosperity, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and Reason magazine.

The Bradley Foundation had assets of $630 million in 2010, and made almost $40 million in grants. (Starting with 2004, its annual reports are available online.)

No person is more associated with Wisconsin’s Progressive Movement than Fighting’ Bob LaFollette —U.S. representative, Wisconsin governor and U.S. Senator.

Walker is well aware of Fightin’ Bob’s iconic status as a champion of democracy and a defender of the common person against corporate greed.

Wisconsin governors have historically been sworn into office in the East Gallery of the Wisconsin State Capitol, near a majestic and impossible-to-miss bust of Bob Lafollette. Walker snubbed that tradition. He didn’t explain why, but actions speak louder than words. Walker chose to be sworn in near the North Gallery, forcing many in the audience to turn their backs on Fightin’ Bob.

Coming Friday: The conservative attack on “The Wisconsin Idea” — a century-old tradition linking public universities and public schools with sound government policy and the common good.
— — —
This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.